The love of learning and barriers to equality

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As a parent I feel like there are only a few key things I need to teach my daughter.

  1.  A love of learning,
  2. Empathy for others, and
  3. Perseverance in the face of adversity

With these 3 things under her belt she will easily acquire the knowledge she needs, be a good person with a sense of integrity and will apply her knowledge to life despite the inevitable set backs. What more could anyone do as a parent to set their children up for success?

In this spirit my wife and I took Amara (4) to the Chabot Space and Science center last weekend. She loved it, just like she loved the Lawrence Hall of Science 2 weeks before. She can’t wait to go back and while it may not be as exciting as Disneyland, these trips are a close 2nd for her. When I ask her if she wants to do a science experiment at home, she always drops the iPad (an unfortunate addiction) and joins me on whatever project I’ve got set up for us. In short, Amara loves science and learning and I am going to do everything I can to make sure that never changes.

Now that I’m done bragging about my daughter, the reason for this post:

Each time I visit one of these science theme parks its costs our family at least $50 and it dawned on me last weekend that this cost was yet another socio-economic barrier to advancement. For us the $50 isn’t a consideration but for the working single mom in Oakland who is struggling to put food on the table how can she hope to give her kids the same experience? There are other and cheaper ways to instill a love of learning in your children but they may not be as effective or as easy. Our relative privilege confers on my daughter an almost impossible to quantify but no doubt significant advantage in life that she will take with her no matter where she goes to school or how the markets are doing. She will fundamentally be a more effective human being because of the privileges we can provide.

It makes me a little sad that we can’t make these public facilities free or at least free for the socio-economically disadvantaged. I often think about what kind of charitable work I would do if I were retired and in a position to fund a foundation. One thing I would like to do is to make sure that facilities like these are available to all. Every child should be able to grow up inspired to learn.

Its on my bucket list now. If this is something that interests you, let me know. Lets chat and see what we can do about it. 

A concrete technological solution to gun control is already here.

 Image credit: http://www.nationofchange.org/five-ways-stop-mass-shootings-america-1402668914

Image credit: http://www.nationofchange.org/five-ways-stop-mass-shootings-america-1402668914


EDITED: A friend has taken my suggestion to heart and will be creating a non-profit to launch an effective grassroots campaign against mass shootings. Please visit his Gofundme page here: https://www.gofundme.com/pn5gucts


Yesterday's shooting in Umpqua is tragic but it is hardly surprising. As of yesterday there had been 294 mass shootings in the United States in only 274 days. There could literally be a cable channel devoted to 24/7 coverage of mass shootings (Roger Ailes, I'm looking at you). 

You've been bombarded by coverage and numbers in the last 24 hours so I won't repeat them all here but I do want to make a concrete proposal for a grass roots effort to finally put these tragedies firmly in our nation's past.

After the Sandy Hook shooting left 20 children dead more than 90% of Americans favored stricter gun control laws and yet those laws fizzled in congress. Why?  The NRA spent approximately $35M ensuring that gun control would not happen in 2014. In non-election years their spending drops off dramatically but is still a substantial force. I don't know if the NRA is entirely to blame for this country's inaction on gun control but it certainly has been a huge factor.

$35M might not seem like much money but the average congressional campaign is "only" around $1M. If you look at just the primary portion of the campaign it is probably substantially less,. For the sake of argument lets say the average primary portion for a Congressional Representative's campaign is $500,000. This means that the NRA can pay for the campaign of 70 representatives in Congress or about 15% of Congress. Compounding this, the NRA doesn't need to spend money to get the votes it wants. With the war chest it has at its disposal, the mere threat of funding a challenger is enough to convince most Congressional Representatives to cave to NRA demands. The answer to getting rational gun control laws passed then has to be to defeat the NRA. 

Here is how we can take the NRA out of the equation. We start a $1000 gofundme.com campaign for every person killed in gun violence in this country. In 2013 that would have raised $33M, enough to counter the NRA dollar for dollar. If we also launched a $500 campaign for everyone injured but not killed in gun violence, we would have added an additional $42M in 2013. Every person killed or wounded in gun violence has family, friends and a community who love them and who would gladly contribute towards ending gun violence in the name of their loved one. 

Technology in the form of gofundme has provided us with an opportunity to make major change in this country. We can outspend the NRA more than 2:1. We can defeat them together and we can make this a safer place for all of us to raise our own families.  

Towards a VC Service Level Agreement

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In all other facets of business or life, when you make a long term commitment to someone else, there are rules governing the commitment. Marriage vows, service level agreements, early termination provisions, employee handbooks, codes of conduct, CC&Rs, etc. These governance documents all go into great detail on how the relationship should work and help to set expectations. 

When you enter into a relationship with a VC though, very little is actually codified. There are financing docs but much of what is spelled out in those agreements is purely procedural and does little to define the expectations of the parties over the life of the relationship (10+ years). In an effort to address this failing I am working on something akin to a Venture Capital service level agreement. What follows is a rough draft of the SLA. Please let me know if I've missed something or included something that should go without saying. We are open to any comments, ridicule or praise. Please let me know what you think in the comments or at my twitter handle @runvc

The goals here are (1) to set expectations and (2) to craft a VC firm that is responsive to the needs and desires of founders. 

Sazze Partners Pledge

  • Respect – We respect your time.
    • We come to meetings prepared
    • We can close an investment in no more than 3 meetings and diligence can be done in less than 2 weeks
  • Transparency – We are open and honest about our decisions
    • If we pass on an investment after engaging with you, we will provide you with a written explanation for our decision.
  • Mutual Interest – We believe relationships should be based on mutual interest.
    • We won’t ask you for exclusivity or confidentiality during our pre-investment discussions. If we partner with you we want it to be because we were the best match, period.
  • Community – We want to join your community and we want you to join ours.
    • If we invest, we want to be involved at the board level and if you don’t yet have a board, we want to be there when you do. We will help prepare you for series A board meetings and beyond.
    • We invite all of our companies to participate in our community.
  • Founder Friendly- We believe that the best startups are run by founders who care passionately about their companies. To that end, we aim to support founders as much as possible.
    • We are willing to take a portion of our equity on par with the equity held by the founders as a means of aligning interest.
    • We are willing to do the hard work of pricing and leading rounds.
    • We believe in supporting founders through thick and thin and in helping them grow into their leadership roles. 

What it really means to "fake it till you make it"

A very common piece of advice in the startup world is to "fake it till you make it." I think this advice is often given to young founders of early stage companies and what it means is that they should project confidence and tell a story about their company that might be more aspirational that it is factual.

Put aside for the moment, the obvious ethical questions around stretching the truth when it comes to your company's performance. Most people who give this advice are really missing the point. Faking it till you make it isn't about something external (like click through rates and user adoption), it is about dealing with something internal, a lack of self-confidence in even the very best of founders. 

There is something called imposter syndrome, which very few people in Silicon Valley talk about but is actually quite significant. At the most basic level it is a fear harbored by many successful people that they are not actually very good at what they do. Their successes, they believe, are the result of a combination of luck and their ability to trick others into believing in them. Psychologists who have studied this “syndrome” claim that as many as 40% of highly successful people suffer from it at some point in their careers. Einstein is quoted as once saying that he felt like an “involuntary swindler.”  

While many successful people sometimes think of themselves as poseurs, they remain successful and the reason for this comes back to the misunderstood advice of fake it till you make it. The truly successful can accept feelings of inadequacy but can put on the mask of confidence when they need to. They tackle company meetings, wow investors and project charisma even though they feel like frauds on the inside. If they do this long enough, eventually they stop needing to fake it because they come to the realization that they have been successful all along, not because of trickery but because they’ve always had what it takes. Maybe it isn’t really about faking it till you make it, it’s about faking your belief in it until you actually believe it.

Don’t fake your numbers. Do project self-confidence. 

What happened to mystery

Sometimes I wonder if the mobile revolution is undermining our collective ability to problem solve.

I’ve always been extremely curious, the kind of person who asks “why” or “how” a thousand times a day about everything from why beavers dam up creeks to how suspension bridges work. I probably drove my parents crazy. It used to be that I would take a few minutes and try to reason the answer out. I was wrong more often than not but I can’t help thinking the exercise was extremely valuable to developing my reasoning abilities.

Today when kids are confronted by the mysteries of the world around them they can use their phones to find immediate answers. On the one hand this is a fantastic learning tool. On the other hand, google and Wikipedia have replaced our need to reason, draw inferences and make hypotheses about the world in which we live. I don’t know if it’s a net positive.  Until the digital natives have grown up I don’t think we’ll have a clear answer but I am a little afraid that the movie ideocracy  may prove to be a little too spot on.